About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Christian Scientists versus invasive species
The article deals – so to speak – with the very serious problem of invasive species, those plants or animals that rapidly colonize new habitats after having being introduced into them, sometimes accidentally, other times intentionally, by humans. Invasions devastate the local flora and fauna, and often affect the health of an ecosystem and even of human crops. It's a worldwide problem that is costing billions of dollars, and which real scientists take very seriously.
Enter the anonymous Christian Scientist who wrote the piece. Here is his simple advice: since international, science-based approaches can take years, “prayer is an effort that can be undertaken now.” You see, according to Mary Baker Eddy's (the foundress of Christian Science) “insight” there is only one Mind, that of God. Obviously, “that Mind has an infinite understanding and knowledge of its own creation.” But, wait, if that's obviously the case, why does this Mind need our prayers to tell Him/Her/It that there is something wrong with the earth's ecosystem? Can't the Mind run a level-1 diagnostic on the planet and figure it out for itself?
But never mind minor logical contradictions. The important thing is that prayer “doesn't just stay inside our head,” you see because “the effect of thought goes into the general mental atmosphere.” And what, pray, exactly is a mental atmosphere? Can we breathe it? How do we improve it? Because lately I feel a bit of general mental anoxia, in that department.
These and other “spiritual facts” (another oxymoron) are scattered throughout the Christian Science Monitor's piece, and would be as good as the Onion for a good chuckle if it were not for the possibility that this nonsense, much like many other Christian Science doctrines about the power of prayer and the spirit-over-flesh thing, may actually lead to less evidence-based action. One of the great dangers of the Christian religion is precisely this constant theme that things will get better just because we wish them so, if not now, then in the next life. But we are not going to have a next life, and there isn't going to be another planet earth to inhabit once we've destroyed the one we have. The earth wasn't given to us in stewardship by a mental god (or is that a god gone mental?), we inherited it as the result of a historical fluke, a quirk of the evolutionary process. It won't matter to the rest of the universe – much less to a universal Mind – what we do with it. But it will matter to us greatly.